The Upside of the Lockdownby Ron Matsen
At the beginning of 2020 it was very common for governments, businesses, academic institutions and ministries to communicate their vision for the future activities they hoped would be accomplished during the coming year. Some even used the natural wordplay between the year 2020 and 20/20 as it relates to having normal eyesight; in this instance, foresight. In January, few could have predicted the almost-global lockdown that would follow in the months to come. This unprecedented event is still in the early phase of playing out its impact on the course of human history. Many are suffering as a result of this pandemic and the resultant personal, social and economic impact on their lives. Having said that, I found myself asking, “What is God doing and how can this work for the furtherance of His work on earth?”
Reevaluating our priorities
It is amazing how what we thought were the essential things in our life have now been tested by depravation. With every major event cancelled and public facilities closed, some find themselves reevaluating the activities they once considered vital. Perhaps this forced sifting program has caused us to re-label some of those activities as “no longer top priority” or maybe even “not necessary.” In their place, a new list of necessities appears.
An old English proverb states, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Aided by the sound of silence, people’s minds have been unintentionally uncluttered to the point that some are showing the fruit of their unfettered imagination. For me, this is exemplified by the fact that I have witnessed an upsurge in creative materials uploaded to the various social media platforms on the internet. For the most part, these clever expressions entertain, encourage and even inspire anyone who takes the time to appreciate them.
Redefining the word “Church”
During this lockdown in many places around the world, church gatherings have been canceled for fear of creating an environment where Coronavirus could be spread as well as to comply with guidance and executive orders. Consequently, the regular attendees and leadership of these fellowships sought new and different ways of staying connected with each other. Driven by these congregational disconnects, many of these fellowships have launched themselves into the web-based vehicle of social media to reach their scattered flock.
I have to say at this point that although I understand and appreciate the great benefit of these body of believers meeting in close contact with each other, I can also see that the by-product of their separation has birthed a whole new way in which these ministering groups have inadvertently opened their doors to potential listening ears who would not otherwise have entered the walls of their local congregational facility.
All too often in the past the term “church” simply meant a building in which Christians would gather for worship, teaching and fellowship all the while knowing that the real meaning of the Church is not a place but a people. Lately, more than a few times I have seen posts through social media where Christians are declaring that “after all, the Church is not a building it’s a Body of believers.” Well said!
Gone for now are the cherished sectarian labels that proudly adorn the empty church facades. Like the Children of Israel in their time of “isolation in the wilderness,” there is not a lot of opportunity or room for denominational segregation when you are separated from the rest of the world under the hand of God Almighty.
Gone for now are the debates about which day of the week the true Christian should go to church. During lockdown nobody can “go to church.” As the apostle Paul said to the Roman Church, “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”The beautiful thing about our current situation is that the Body of Christ is learning to minister to one another twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week without the need of buildings or programed schedules.
Gone for now are the high-energy, glitzy, emotion appealing showcases that draw huge crowds to their church buildings. The immersive experience of pulsing lights, lasers, smoke and blaring music cannot be easily duplicated when the physical isolation of its audience is in force. If your spiritual well-being depends on this type of a group experience, then you may need to examine your personal connection to the living and personal God that is revealed by the Holy Spirit through the Holy Bible.
In contrast to the complicated business of showtime Christianity, Bible studies traverse the world-wide-web and penetrate any heart that is listening. Therefore, I am encouraged when I see so many small church fellowships, who have never ventured into the web-based world of media distribution, starting to stream their Bible studies to their faithful few, only to find that the numbers and locations of people viewing their content exceeds their normal congregation attendance. Just like the Church in Jerusalem, it took persecution for the people to leave the safe confines of their tight-knit fellowship of believers and go out and start fulfilling the Great Commission as Christ instructed.
Another interesting development has been the plethora of daily devotions being posted by just about everyone I know. Like rivers of living water, these personal posts gush with deep, heart-felt insights that I find instructive and encouraging. No big names here, just everyday people expressing their big heart of love for their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I see the Holy Spirit moving in and through these previously unpublished servants of the Most High God.
I believe with all my heart that we are witnessing a paradigm shift in Church definition vocabulary. I offer two examples that hit very close to home for me.
The Unchurch Christians. For most of my public ministry life I have seen a subgroup within the Body of Christ designated as “un-churched Christians.” Simply put, these are Christians that do not regularly enter the building of a local Christian fellowship. Therefore, they are considered by many as second-class Christians who are not really committed to “assemble together” as commanded by the writer to the Hebrews. My experience, however, has taught me that this may not always be the case.
Most, if not all, of the people who I have met that would be called “unchurched” are so because they do not have a local fellowship in which they feel confident to attend. Therefore, most of them grow in the faith by fellowshipping with distant Christian companions that share the same understanding and convictions. In fact, I would say that many of the people “in fellowship” with K-House or Koinonia Institute would be classed as unchurched by the rest of the building-based in the world.
Now, if we take our current state of restricted meetings into account, then most of the Christians in the world are currently “unchurched.” Given this strange, albeit temporary, state of so many Christians being barred from meeting in their local facilities, perhaps we should all just drop this divisive definition of the “unchurched Christian” and just stick with the single term that defines and unites us all; Christian.
The Parachurch Organization. This is a term that is meant to identify any organization that is not directly associated with a local Christian fellowship with a building or otherwise permanent facility. The intention here is to define these ministries as merely ancillary. It is a term that seeks to describe these ministries as perhaps nice but certainly non-essential.
To be honest, I have struggled with this boxed-in definition because I think it misapplies the key prefix “para.” The term “para,” is from the Greek word that means to come along side to assist. It is where we get our English word “parallel.” The Gospel of John records four times Jesus using the term “Comforter” (Greek word paraklētos) to describe the work of the Holy Spirit.
Now, if Jesus said that He would “build My Church…” then why do man-made organizations refer to their buildings and organizations as “their church” and everyone else as a parachurch organization? Are we not all ministers within the same Church whose only head is Jesus Christ? If we are vessels of the Holy Spirit anointed to come alongside His Church, are we not all parachurch servants? During this time of forced isolation, I believe we are seeing the real ministering members of the Body of Christ emerge between the cracked foundations of the modern ecclesiastical orders that would continue the separation of the clergy from the laity. For further study on this topic, check out what Jesus has to say about the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6 and 2:16).
Re-imagining the way forward
The apostle Paul gave this instruction concerning the design and function of the Church that Jesus is building.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Notice: It is true that the teaching and equipping of the Church members is accomplished by a few but the “work of the ministry” is done by the whole body of believers. Put another way, there are no vestigial members in the Body of Christ. Every member of the Body of Christ can become more than a mere passenger in a pew who is directed by the professionals at the front of the meeting hall. Therefore, every born-again believer should have a part to play in the ministry to and from the Church.
What has been the real upside for me during this mandatory adjustment period has been the “Lessons Learned from the Lockdown.” To see the sovereign hand of God directing these unexpected events that predictably will work out for His purpose, glory and honor.
God bless you all,